THX 1138

Tonight I finally watched my THX 1138 DVD.

I actually had the DVD before the fire and never got around to watching it. I also owned the original version of the film on VHS. When I first heard of the film, I was a teenager and very much in my Star Wars/George Lucas phase. I believe I found out about it from a book called Skywalking, an unofficial George Lucas biography my friend and piano and kung fu teacher Daniel had given me for my birthday. It’s possible I heard about it on the Internet, though, because I was constantly downloading George Lucas-related materials back then, including some original drafts of the Trilogy (like the Jedi script in which Lando and the Falcon are destroyed when Death Star 2 blows up).

In any case, after I heard about George Lucas’ groundbreaking first film, I was dying to watch it, but was unsure of where to find it. While it was loved by cult science fiction fans, it apparently wasn’t very popular otherwise. When I did find it, it was by sheer luck–I happened to be in a video store in Wilmore, Kentucky, and there it was, sitting innocently on a display. I’m not sure why I was even there; maybe I was in staying overnight at a friend’s and we had walked over there, or maybe I was passing time before or after kung fu class. Regardless, I was ecstatic, and my excitement broke through my usual shyness enough that I told the clerk how much I’d been wanting to see the movie. (Back then, talking to strangers was extraordinarily awkward and scary for me.)

I watched the tape over and over. I’m not sure when I found it, but I do know that when my friend Jeremy from the Governor’s Scholars Program came to visit me at some point after high school, I sat him down on the $20 loveseat from Goodwill I had in my bedroom at the time and forced him to watch it. I forced everyone to watch it (much as I used to make people watch ReBoot, and as I now strongly suggest that people watch Kyou Kara Maou).

At the time, I had two understandings of the plot that I was absolutely certain were correct, and which now, after seeing the film again, I am reconsidering.

Maybe I’m too accustomed to having meanings shoved down my throat. Let’s be honest, anime–or at least the anime I watch–isn’t particularly subtle. But it seems to me that things aren’t as obvious as they were when I was younger.

The first is a detail that apparently I missed (or maybe was changed slightly for the rerelease). I believed that what THX saw on the screen when he was looking for LUH was evidence that she’d died in childbirth. Now, it appears that she was simply terminated (and probably the child too, as I’m not sure she had time to come to term), and her number reassigned to a new embryo. The only reason they didn’t kill THX was because his kidney was suitable for later use, after all. LUH was the instigator; the judge was probably more receptive to the prosecutor’s arguments in her case.

The second is something a little more subtle. I honestly believed that SEN was in homosexual love/lust with THX. Looking at it now, I think that’s a possibility, but I don’t think it’s absolutely definite, like I did when I was younger. Back then I interpreted SEN’s desire to have THX as a roommate as his desire to have with him what LUH did. But SEN wasn’t a voluntary nonconformist. He was too smart for his own good. He saw the flaws in the system, and it was his trying to fix them that got him in trouble. It’s possible that he wanted THX around simply because he knew THX was different, too. He wanted to fit somewhere.

Maybe by “helping” THX by removing his temptation, he was hoping to give himself a good example as well.

I don’t have a good enough memory to compare this version of the film to the original. At certain points I thought I could tell that things had been added, but when I watched the original trailer and the “Bald” featurette later, I saw that they’d been there in the original film. It appears that most of the added effects were background things and enhancements, and not changes to the main action. (One exception is the construction zone crash scene–the worker flies into a tunnel instead of falling to the ground.)

Some of you may know that I started writing a “novel” towards the end of high school and during my first year of college. I didn’t have a title for it when I started, so the file was called “Bald.doc”…and the first scene involved a main character, trapped in a featureless room, his head shaved bald. I’m not sure how I could have written this and not thought I was completely ripping off THX 1138, but apparently I did, because I don’t remember comparing the two until now.

That’s kind of sad.

After I finished the movie, I checked out the original student film, which I hadn’t seen before. And I have to tell you: it is pretty damn boring. You can see glimpses of what Lucas was going for–and what he achieved in the theatrical release–but it’s certainly not well-rounded or polished. It’s not feature-length; it’s more a vignette, and what’s irritating is that nothing happens until probably the last five minutes, other than THX running around.

I can’t help but compare this to Steven Spielberg’s brilliant early TV movie Duel, which was gripping the whole way through. Ah well.

(I’ve got to watch that again someday. I originally saw it on TBS.)

The last part of Lucas’ student film is pretty good, so I’m not sorry I watched it :) It’s interesting in a process sense, too, to see how the story evolved.

I liked how it ended, with the powers-that-be in complete denial of THX’s escape. It’s not shown in the film what is done after they go 6% over budget and call off the hunt, but I imagine it could be something like how it played out in the student film. My gut, though, says that they probably just never spoke of the incident again. They’d killed LUH, so there was no need to make excuses/lies to anybody.

(You know, it’s also possible that LUH escaped as well, and they reassigned her number immediately thereafter. I’m not sure if that occurred to me back in high school. The romantic in me would like to think that she and THX are together on the surface now. Hopefully they can survive above ground!)

I had to watch the film with subtitles on because my laptop speakers don’t play DVDs with surround sound very loudly. Because of this, I noticed a few things I hadn’t before. The trial brought out an interesting conflict between “the masses” and “religion”. The term “race issue” was bandied about in this context, which was surprising to me. This shed new light on the hologram–the only black person in the film–and the reason why THX and SEN were staring at him when he first appeared. I’m still not entirely sure what the races are–I started to think maybe it had something to do with cloning, though I’m definitely sure it has to do with “genetic purity”–but regardless, they all seem to be white people.

All in all, it’s definitely a film worth owning. I’m glad I have it again :)